Speaker by Various Artists


Party Central, structures and silos

by Sacha Dylan

During yesterday's parliamentary debate about the problems at Party Central and the Minister's ‘solo’ attempt at fixing them, Phil Twyford reminded us that several government agencies explicitly -- and unsuccessfully -- argued against Auckland's transport functions being split from the Council into a Council-Controlled Organisation (CCO).

That split introduced yet another layer into a situation already messed up by the corporatisation of the 1980s and 1990s; one that separates service providers from policymakers and funders for largely ideological reasons. These layers reduce responsiveness and accountability. And we've seen that play out this week.

Auckland's 'supercity' changes weakened geographic silos but strengthened functional ones in local government. The region's restructuring brought together staff of similar functions like transport or events into the new CCOs and into the huge new Council's various departments.

In parallel with the supercity changes and their precursors like the 'One Plan', Auckland's former Councils and CCO agencies started working together years ago to plan the event for the Auckland region, collaborating closely with central government agencies and the Rugby World Cup 2011 joint venture company.

That's just like other regions have done, but with added complexity from being the only place large enough to accommodate sufficient visitors to satisfy the IRB for the opening and finals events, and to leverage associated economic opportunities as our only world-scale city. There just aren't enough beds or businesses in Christchurch, Wellington or Hamilton.

For the tournament, the buck is ultimately meant to stop in two places: the Rugby World Cup Minister and the Mayor of Auckland Council.

However … the current government set up the supercity so Council has an arms-length relationship where it is only meant to set and monitor the strategic priorities of the CCOs, while their own boards (appointed mainly by the government) decide how their staff will deliver. In turn, they often have to negotiate with contracted suppliers -- such as Veolia or event companies -- over what is provided to the end customer: us.

Joel Cayford has an excellent blog post going into some more detail about the contractual issue. Basically, it can be an awfully long chain from any citizen's experience to where the buck stops.

In effect, a lot of effort and goodwill has gone into making relationships work more sensibly than that. However, it seems natural that some of the professional silos remain and, if anything, are strengthened by the new structure.

To me, that helps explain some of the issues like Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) only paying attention to the event 'footprint' they had decided on -- without proper demand forecasting, which seems inexcusably unprofessional for an event of this scale. Likewise, the sheer lack of thought about how to simultaneously deliver people to the stadium, to the hyped waterfront and to normal working day destinations (and even scheduling the event on a regular workday at all). Like not ensuring everyone was working to the same overall numbers.

Much of this is reflected  in the reports prepared for Wednesday's meeting of the Counci's accountability and performance committee. You can read the reports here.

ATEED’s report also confirms that television marketing considerations and the perceived importance of ‘Party Central’ -- government priorities -- drove placement on the waterfront and overruled options like opening more dispersed fanzones or extending provision inland to places like Aotea Square or the proven Auckland Domain where huge crowds are hosted for events like Christmas in the Park. Downplaying the success of their own pre-event marketing must also have been hard to swallow.

There are obvious coordination failures, and some pretty basic delivery ones. However, putting it right gives a chance to work closer together and to forge a more united purpose.

That's why the pissy trust-destroying antics of McCully and his colleagues this week are so deeply disappointing - and for what gain?

Government has every right to step up to make sure this event that reflects so much on them is delivered properly. There are clearly some howling failures that deserve deeper accountability after the event is safely wrapped up (and perhaps we'll see some government-appointed CCO Board members symbolically replaced). The Mayor and the Councillors share responsibility for not adequately verifying the assurances they were given by the staff who report to them and to the CCO Boards.

There are also some great lessons for what the city could be like in a couple of decades, especially for its form and connectedness; its transport links and the way people enjoy its spaces and each other. Friday was like fast-forwarding 20 years and seeing how today’s business-as-usual would cope. Council’s long-term plan for the region’s future is due out for consultation next week.

Without losing sight of those opportunities, I'd welcome us focusing for now on the spirit of celebration that has been so obvious throughout the country, and being great hosts for our treasured visitors. That's something all the cultures and people that make up this wonderful place have in common. We deserve leaders who reflect that to the world.

 Sacha Dylan is a consultant and strategist who has worked with several of the region’s councils and agencies over the last decade, though not directly on the Rugby World Cup preparations.

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